Morientes finds scoring touch to give Liverpool the upper hand

Cska Sofia 1 Liverpool 3

CSKA Sofia provided Liverpool with the first genuine test of a European Cup defence that commenced on the lowest rung of the qualifying ladder, yet their emphatic response, polished by the two-goal performance of Fernando Morientes, not only made their passage into the group stages of this season's Champions' League a formality, but suggested they will present a more purposeful threat than ever when they get there.

In the face of a lively, neat yet unthreatening Sofia side, Liverpool remained unfazed and finally, after relying almost entirely on Steven Gerrard for inspiration during the qualifying phase, produced the solid team display their manager has demanded all summer. Fine preparation for the start of the Premiership season at Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Gerrard, of course, was central to the victory, creating all three goals in the Bulgarian capital but it was the performance of the Liverpool strikers, and in particular Morientes, that provided the greatest satisfaction for Benitez.

Much of CSKA's pre-match confidence was based on their reputation for ending the reigns of existing European champions rather than their Bulgarian record of 30 domestic titles. Three times they have taken the Continent's prized scalp, that of Ajax in 1974, Nottingham Forest in 1981 and Liverpool a year later, though an inability to repeat that feat for the past 23 years has cost that reputation any intimidating advantage it once had.

Those home supporters in a half-empty stadium not put off by extortionate ticket prices were encouraged by an adventurous start from CSKA who, with three men behind lone striker Guillaume Zadi, sought to stretch both Liverpool full-backs from the first whistle. However, for all their invention, they had engineered only one difficult chance for Zadi before the visiting attack gave Liverpool a commanding hold on the tie.

The pace of Djibril Cissé and power of Gerrard provided Liverpool with rare encouragement during a difficult opening, but when they combined in the 25th minute they displayed more penetration than CSKA ever had. A feigned Gerrard shot helped disguise a pass though the Bulgarian back line to Cissé, and the £14m striker took his tally to four Champions' League qualifying goals with a clinical left-foot finish beyond Evgheni Hmaruc.

Six minutes later what was already a fine scoreline in the circumstances took on a more impressive hue when Morientes answered the pre-match calls for him to start reproducing the form of his Real Madrid and Monaco days. Again Gerrard was the provider, this time with a free-kick from the right, and the Spanish international rose in front of the Sofia keeper to head into an empty net.

Yet, with CSKA appearing deflated, there was time for them to resurrect their chances on the stroke of half-time when Velizar Dimitrov ghosted in between Gerrard and Stephen Warnock to head Mourad Hdiouad's left-wing cross beyond Jose Reina.

However, given the porous nature of the CSKA defence, their hopes of a comeback rested on the most suspect of foundations. The home side never came to terms with either Cissé's speed or Morientes' ability to drift away from his marker. The Spanish international was revelling in the freedom CSKA allowed and, having hit the post when sent clean through by Xabi Alonso, in the 58th minute he beat Hmaruc once again.

For the third time in the match Gerrard was able to claim an assist, collecting Cissé's deep cross inside the penalty area and picking out Morientes who, despite having his back to goal, turned and sent a low shot on the turn through the goalkeeper's legs.

Right at the death Reina did well to stop a low shot to his right and Liverpool held on to their advantage.

CSKA Sofia (4-2-3-1): Hmaruc; Matic, Zabavnik, Gueye, Silva; Hdiouad, Todorov; Yanev (P Dimitrov, 35), V Dimitrov, Gargorov; Zadi (Yordanov, 80). Substitutes not used: Ivanov (gk), Maksic, Matko, Yurukov, Sakaliev.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock; Garcia, Gerrard (Sissoko, 70), Alonso (Hamann, 64), Riise; Cissé, Morientes (Barragan, 79). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Baros, Whitbread.

Referee: J Wegereef (Netherlands).

Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices